Orange Almond Semifreddo with Port Wine Poached Figs

~ Orange Almond Semifreddo, Port Wine Poached Figs, Almond Praline ~

This dessert has the whiff of Christmas. The good news is that you don’t need to wait until December to taste it. It’s really a 2-part dessert, with each component stand-alone good. Fresh figs are poached in a heady reduction of Port wine, balsamic vinegar, citrus and spice yielding intense results reminiscent of Christmas puddings and mulled wine. You could stop there and serve the figs in their stew as a simple dessert soup, but why hold back? That was my thought, when I ladled the figs and their sauce over a wedge of melt-in-your-mouth semifreddo. Semifreddo is a fancy way to describe this frozen Italian concoction of whipped cream and meringue, which, in this case, is flecked with toasted almonds and orange zest. Each bite is ethereal, light and airy, disappearing on the tongue in a teasing poof. For a little structure and lasting crunch, I topped the dessert with a shard of caramelized almond praline. Like I said – why hold back?

Orange Almond Semifreddo with Port Wine Poached Figs

Active Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes, plus cooling and freezing time
Serves 8

Semifreddo:
3/4 cup whole almonds
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Pinch of salt
3 large egg whites, room temperature
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
1 teaspoon orange liqueur, such as Gran Marnier or Cointreau
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Figs Compote:
1 cup Port wine
1/4 cup brown sugar
Zest and juice of 1 orange
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
12 large dried figs, stems removed, halved

Praline:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Prepare the semifreddo:
1. Line a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan with plastic, leaving a 3-inch overhang.
2. Place the almonds and the 2 tablespoons sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely ground. Add the orange zest and salt and pulse once or twice to blend.
3. Beat the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer until they begin to hold soft peaks. Add the 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until the egg whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks. Transfer to a large bowl.
4. In a clean mixing bowl, beat the cream, orange liqueur, and vanilla extract in a clean mixing bowl until soft peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the cream until no traces are visible. Gently fold the almonds into the egg whites until evenly distributed. Spoon into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top. Cover tightly with plastic. Freeze at least 8 hours or overnight.

Prepare the figs:
Bring all of the compote ingredients, except the figs, to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and boil until the liquid reduces by half. Strain the liquid and return to the saucepan. Add the figs and simmer, partially covered, over medium-low heat until soft, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and cool completely in the liquid. (Figs may be prepared up to 1 day in advance. Refrigerate until use. Bring to room temperature to serve.)

Prepare the praline:
Heat the sugar in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat until sugar melts, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until sugar turns amber in color. Add the almonds and sea salt and stir quickly to coat. Pour onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and spread into a thin layer. Do not touch with your fingers. Cool completely. Break into small pieces.

Serve:
When ready to serve, remove the semifreddo from the loaf pan. Working quickly, cut in 3/4-inch slices and arrange on serving plates or shallow bowls. Spoon figs and juice over the semifreddo and garnish with praline shards. Serve immediately.

 

Ring in the New Year with these Party Appetizer and Menu Ideas

The New Year is approaching, and the holiday festivities continue. During this busy time it’s fun and easy to get caught up in socializing, so it’s important to have a few tricks up our sleeve for entertaining, drop-in visitors or an impromptu get-together. Let this blog do some of the work for you. Here are a few menu ideas for holiday bites and appetizers to have on hand or to serve for a party. Meanwhile, savor the moment and enjoy some family time, take a walk in the forest or open that new book  you got from Santa.  Best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year!

Ginger Spiced Molasses Cookies

Ginger Spiced Molasses Cookies

~ Ginger Spiced Molasses Cookies ~

We’ve waited until very late (for us) to get our Christmas tree this year. Normally it’s up in early December, and by time the 25th arrives, we light the candles in a last hurrah, before dismantling it the next day. This year is a little different. We harvested our tree only this past weekend, on Saturday evening in the dark. As we picked it out, it felt like we were back in Denmark, searching for a tree in the darkness of the nordic winter. We spent Sunday decorating and will continue to do so over the next few days – after all, everyone has to have their way with the decorations. Then on the 24th, we will light the tree in its full glory as we celebrate julaften or Christmas eve, when we eat our big holiday dinner. In true Scandinavian fashion we use live candles, and it’s truly the most beautiful sight to behold.

Since the tree is so fresh, it will remain standing for a good week after Christmas, which is perfect, since we are home for the holidays this year and look forward to friends stopping in for wine and gløgg.  In anticipation, I’ve made an extra large batch of these Ginger Molasses Spiced Cookies to have on hand for any last minute tree tweaking and unexpected guests who might surprise us. The spice of these cookies goes very well with a glass of warm spiced gløgg.

Ginger Spiced Molasses Cookies

I was honored that Food52 selected these cookies last week as their contribution to a virtual cookie swap, hosted by Food Network and Yahoo! Shine. And Alicia, the talent behind the delicious blog Weekly Greens, has featured this recipe in her Whole Foods Market Cooking Column. Christmas has indeed come early this year!

Makes about 42 (1 1/2 inch) cookies.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
1/3 cup finely diced candied ginger, optional
Granulated sugar for rolling

Whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ground ginger, allspice, salt, and cloves in a bowl to combine.  Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and molasses and mix well.  Add the dry ingredients and mix to combine. Stir in the candied ginger. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Pour some granulated sugar into a small bowl. Roll dough into 1 1/2 inch balls, then in the sugar. Arrange on baking sheets lined with parchment paper and gently flatten. Bake in oven until set and crinkled on top, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove and cool.

Gløgg, Glüwein, Mulled Wine

Gløgg, glüwein, mulled wine – the names and languages are different but not the results. Orange, cinnamon and cloves steep in red wine fortified with a reduction of port wine spiked with Cointreau. Goodness, if that isn’t enough to get you fired up for the holiday season, then I’m not sure what will.

There are many pre-made mixes for gløgg, but the best way to make it is from scratch. It’s easy to do and requires an inexpensive full-bodied red wine.  When you make the gløgg, the aroma of simmering spices and wine will fill your home with winter cheer. Best served in front of a fire on a cold and snowy day.

Gløgg 
Serves 8 to 10

For the garnish:
1 cup raisins
1/3 cup Cointreau, Gran Marnier, or rum
1/2 cup whole almonds (optional)

For the gløgg:
1 1/2 cups Port wine
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup Cointreau or Gran Marnier
1/3 cup brown sugar
Zest of 2 untreated or organic oranges, shaved in strips with a vegetable peeler
10 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 bottles full-bodied red wine

Fresh orange slices as garnish

Prepare the garnish:
Combine the raisins and Cointreau in a small bowl. Let stand at room temperature for at least 2 hours. (The raisins may be prepared up to one week in advance.  Cover and refrigerate until use). Toast the almonds in a dry skillet on the stove. Remove from the heat and coarsely chop into large pieces.

Prepare the gløgg:
Combine all of the gløgg ingredients, except the 2 bottles of red wine, in a heavy large pot with a lid. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until the liquid reduces to about 2 cups, 12 to 15 minutes. Add the red wine, cover the pot, and reduce the heat to low. Heat the gløgg without letting it come to a boil (or the spirits will evaporate!)

To serve, add a spoonful each of raisins and almonds, if using, to a glass or mug.  Strain the gløgg into the glass. Garnish with fresh orange slices and serve with a spoon for scooping up the raisins and almonds.

Cranberry Orange Trifle with Candied Walnuts

Buttermilk Pound Cake, Cranberries, Candied Walnuts, Orange Mascarpone Cream

Here is a holiday trifle that I couldn’t wait for Christmas to make. The good news is that it’s perfect for Thanksgiving, too. This sumptuous dessert is sweet, tart, crunchy and creamy at once. Buttermilk poundcake is blanketed with layers of cranberry compote, orange infused mascarpone whipped cream and candied walnuts. (Do you see why I couldn’t wait?) Each bite is light and airy with the pop of sweet-tart cranberries and the crunch of cinnamon dusted nuts, so be sure to get a little bit of everything in each spoonful. And, even better, the trifle can rest in the refrigerator overnight, so it’s a perfect do-ahead holiday dessert.

Cranberry Orange Trifle with Candied Walnuts

While there are several components to this trifle, each one may be prepared in advance, and each one is stand alone good, so feel free to use them on their own. Serve in a trifle bowl or individual goblets. Makes 8-10 servings.

For the buttermilk pound cake:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 325 F. (170 C.) Butter a 9-by-5 inch loaf pan. Line bottom with parchment; butter parchment. Whisk flour, baking soda and salt together in a bowl; set aside.
Beat sugar and butter in bowl of electric mixer until light and fluffy, 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in vanilla. Add half of the flour, then the buttermilk, then the remaining flour, mixing well to combine after each addition. Pour into loaf pan. Bake in oven until wooden skewer inserted in center comes clean, about 55 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool 10 minutes. Invert cake onto rack and cool completely. Pound cake may be prepared up to 2 days in advance. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate until use.

For the cranberry compote:
12 ounces cranberries, fresh or frozen
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until cranberries pop and release juices. Remove from heat and cool completely. Refrigerate, covered, for up to 4 days.

For the candied walnuts:
1 1/2 cups walnut halves
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 F. Arrange walnuts on a baking tray. Bake in oven 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Heat sugar over medium heat in a small saucepan. As soon as it begins to dissolve, stir with a wooden spoon until sugar is liquid and amber colored. Add walnuts and stir to coat. Add salt and cinnamon. Remove from heat and pour walnuts onto a baking tray lined with parchment or silpac sheet. Allow to cool completely. Break into pieces. Store at room temperature in an air-tight container for up to 1 week.

For the orange mascarpone cream:
2 cups heavy cream, chilled
8 ounces mascarpone cheese, chilled
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
1 tablespoon Gran Marnier or Cointreau
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine cream and mascarpone in bowl of electric mixer. Beat until traces of whisk are visible. Add remaining ingredients and continue to beat until peaks form. Refrigerate until use. (May be made 4 hours in advance.)

Assemble the trifle:
Reserve a few whole cranberries from the compote for garnish. Pour a thin layer of cranberry compote into the bottom of the trifle dish or individual glasses. Cut the pound cake in 3/4 inch cubes. Arrange a layer of pound cake over the compote. Top with a layer of cream. Sprinkle with a few of the nuts. Repeat layering process, finishing with a layer of cream and nuts. Garnish with reserved cranberries and finely grated orange zest. Serve immediately or refrigerate, covered up to 24 hours before serving.

Optional: Brush each layer of pound cake with Cointreau or Gran Marnier for an adult version of this dessert.

Holiday Pumpkin Pecan Roulade

Pumpkin Pecan Roulade with Orange Mascarpone Cream

The holidays are upon us, and it’s time to get dressed up. The silver needs polishing, the shoes need shining and the kids need scrubbing. Even our food gets dressed up, with stuffings and dressings, garnishes and twists. Nothing escapes scrutiny, including dessert where dustings and dollops are par for the course. And, in the spirit of fancifying, what is known as the ordinary cake roll becomes an elegant roulade at the Thanksgiving table.

What is the difference between a cake roll and roulade? you may ask. Well, nothing. Both terms describe a light cake which is rolled in a spiral with a creamy filling. Yet the blandly descriptive cake roll is what I might consider an afternoon dalliance. For my Thanksgiving dinner, I am inviting the roulade, a French term which elegantly and aptly sums up the nature of the dessert as the word itself rolls off the tongue. I want that dessert at our dressed up holiday table.

Language aside, there are other reasons to include a roulade on your menu. It’s elegant yet uncomplicated, remarkably easy to prepare with stunning results. It’s a no-fail recipe, which is a welcome relief during the holidays and frees up more time to dress ourselves up for the guests.

Pumpkin Pecan Roulade with Orange Mascarpone Cream
Inspired by a recipe from Ina Garten. Serves 8 to 10.

For the cake:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup pumpkin or butternut squash puree
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus extra for dusting

For the filling:
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
3/4 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

Prepare cake:
Preheat oven to 375 F. (190 C.) Butter a 12 by 9 by 1-inch sheet pan. Line with parchment paper. Butter paper and dust with flour.
Sift flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and nutmeg together in a medium bowl and set aside. Whisk eggs and sugar in a bowl of an electric mixer until light and thick, 2 minutes. Add pumpkin and vanilla; mix until smooth. Stir in dry ingredients until combined without over-mixing. Pour into prepared pan and spread evenly with a spatula. Sprinkle pecans over batter. Bake in oven until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 12-14 minutes. Remove and cool on wire rack 5 minutes. While the cake is cooling, lay a clean kitchen towel on the work surface. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup sifted confectioners sugar. Invert cake onto the sugared towel. Carefully peel away the parchment paper and discard. Starting at the long end, carefully roll up the cake, jelly-roll style, in the towel. Cool completely on the wire rack.

Prepare filling:
While the cake is cooling, combine mascarpone, confectioners’ sugar, cream and vanilla in bowl of electric mixer. Beat until light and fluffy. Stir in orange zest.

Assemble roulade:
Gently unroll cake on work surface. Spread filling evenly over cake with a spatula. Carefully roll the cake back up in the same direction, using the towel. Arrange seam-side down on a platter. Dust with confectioners’ sugar. Cut in 3/4 inch slices to serve.

Porcini and Rosemary Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Porcini Port Sauce

Porcini and Rosemary Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Porcini Port Sauce

beef tenderloin tf

This recipe is worth celebrating. Porcini and Rosemary Crusted Beef Tenderloin has been selected as a winner  in this week’s Food52 contest for Your Best Holiday Roast. And that’s not the only reason it’s worthy of a party. Dried porcini mushrooms blitzed with fresh rosemary sprigs and black peppercorns create an umami-rich rub for the beef, forming a crust that melts into the meat while roasting. It’s stand alone delicious, yet when napped with a luxurious port wine reduction infused with more porcini and rosemary, this dish becomes an elegant dinner worthy of any holiday celebration. So go on, name a holiday – or just call it the weekend. This is a treat that your family and friends will be sure to enjoy. And that’s worth celebrating, too.

Porcini and Rosemary Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Porcini Port Sauce

Salting the  meat in advance ensures juicy results and a crispy crust. A combination of port and red wine is used in this recipe. Red wine may be substituted with additional port. Serves 6 to 8.

For the beef tenderloin:
1 center cut beef tenderloin, about 3 pounds
Salt
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
Olive oil

For the Porcini Port Wine Sauce:
1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted in 3/4 cup hot water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1 cup port wine
1 cup heavy-bodied red wine
2 rosemary sprigs
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1. Season the tenderloin all over with salt. Refrigerate 4 hours or up to 24 hours. Thirty minutes before roasting remove beef from the refrigerator.
2. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Combine the mushrooms, rosemary, and peppercorns in a spice grinder. Grind to a coarse powder. Rub the beef with olive oil, then coat all over with the rosemary porcini rub.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a wide skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the beef and brown on all sides, about 8 minutes, turning as necessary. Transfer the beef to a roasting pan, and set the skillet aside without rinsing for the sauce.
4. Roast beef in the oven until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part reads 125*F, about 30 minutes for medium-rare. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Tent with foil and let stand for 15 minutes.
5. While the beef is roasting, prepare the sauce. Strain the porcini water through an un-bleached paper towel into a small bowl. Reserve the strained liquid. Coarsely chop the porcini.
6. Add 1 tablespoon butter, the shallots, and porcini to the reserved skillet. Sauté over medium heat until the shallots are translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the port, scraping up any brown bits in the pan. Add the red wine, mushroom stock, and rosemary. Bring to a boil and cook uncovered until the sauce is reduced by about half to approximately 1 1/2 cups. Add the salt and taste for seasoning. Strain through a fine-meshed seive into a small saucepan, pressing firmly on the solids; discard solids. Heat the sauce over medium heat. Whisk in 2 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Keep warm until serving.
7. To serve, carve the meat in slices. Serve on warm plates with the porcini port sauce.